Envisioning Vieques, Puerto Rico’s Resilient Population as Food Secure and Energy Independent

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John Wargo
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The island of Vieques seems like a typical beachfront resort paradise to vacationing North Americans, but it holds a history of colonialism and imperialism, a crumbling economic infrastructure, island-wide contamination, social unrest from decades of unwanted military operations and a resilient population. In the 18th century, the island was overtaken by sugar cane plantations as colonizers killed or enslaved indigenous people and brought enslaved West Africans to the Caribbean to work. The land and people of this island have been under oppressing forces for centuries, leading to an unstable foundation of economic and social unrest. After the United States took over Puerto Rico, the Navy began expropriating the islanders from their native lands again. U.S. military interventions used the East and West ends of the island for Naval operations, storage, and live ammunition testing. Years after this small population had been engaging in civil disobedience, the media began exposing reports, and later scientific evidence of higher cancer risks for the people of Vieques in comparison to mainland Puerto Ricans. This was allegedly caused through the contamination of military activities on the ecology, affecting the island in a multitude of harmful ways. Through protests and activism, the community was able to slowly implement environmental justice and remediation of their island, but the damage remains. Although environmentalism has allowed the people of Vieques to start fighting back for their land, this population faces high yields of food insecurity. This is amidst issues of extended tourism, an altering global climate, and consequently the damage from storms like Hurricane Irma and Maria, as well as the island’s failing economic infrastructure. Extensive repairs are necessary for the whole Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, but the systemic failures of Vieques are a unique battle of environmental, social, and economic factors that have kept the population from being self-sufficient in regard to access, availability, utilization and stability of food.